Turkey is "strongly leaning" toward buying a Chinese air defense system, which would damage its air defense cooperation with NATO but serve Ankara's goal of increasing the amount of locally produced military equipment it buys. A report from American defense newspaper Defense News reports that:
One senior procurement official familiar with the program said the Turkish government has concluded that the Chinese proposal was technologically satisfactory, allowed technology transfer and was much cheaper than rival proposals.
The decision to select the Chinese contender awaits final approval from Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
This deal has been the subject of speculation for many years, as the competition between American, European, Chinese, and Russian systems seemed to be a sort of geopolitical bellwether. And coming on the heels of Turkey's formally becoming a "dialogue partner" of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a big Chinese deal like this would raise a lot of questions about Turkey's geopolitical trajectory. But it appears that Turkey is focusing less on geopolitics and more on its own defense industry in leaning toward the Chinese system, as the Western companies are less likely to share their technology with Turkey and allow co-production in Turkey, a condition that appears to be non-negotiable to Ankara. Nevertheless, choosing the Chinese HQ-9 would mean more difficulty in integrating with the NATO air defense equipment Turkey already hosts:
“I cannot comment on how the [US] administration would react to that. But I can tell you that integrating a Chinese or Chinese-Turkish air defense system into NATO assets may not be a good idea,” a US diplomat here said.
That, in turn, would weaken the system as it wouldn't be able to take advantage of NATO's early-warning radar. But Turkey may be thinking bigger than that: they are working on creating their own space-based surveillance system, which could, in theory, act as an early warning system for its air defense.
I asked Aaron Stein, an Istanbul-based defense analyst, about the most recent news. He said Ankara's air defense plans, including the space system, are "grandiose and unrealistic" and points out that the Chinese system is unproven: "There is absolutely no open source data about the system's capability against long range missiles and cruise missiles. I would be very dubious about claims that it would be capable of intercepting with any certainty these two targets." Will moving toward greater self-sufficiency -- with Chinese help -- outweigh that risk, in Ankara's thinking? We'll soon find out.